The No Child Left Behind Act passed by the federal government in 2002 was intended to close the gap between high and low achievers in kindergarten through grade 12. The main purpose of the law was to hold states and schools accountable for student achievement. Most states have developed tests of basic skills in reading, writing and math that are administered at grade levels that differ in different states. Some states have also developed tests for other subjects, including social studies, science, art and music. It is easy to find basic skills test samples from states or from educational publishing companies.
State Released Tests
States that have developed their own basic skills tests offer samples from tests that have been used and will not be used again for state assessment. These are called released tests, and they are available from many states, including Florida, Texas, Iowa, Washington and Virginia, to name just a few. These tests can be found online by typing in the name of the state and the words "released tests." The samples can be printed and used to assess student achievement at school or at home.
State Test Materials Online
Florida is one of the states that offer sample tests online to prepare students. Students can answer sample questions from the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test on reading and math at home or at school using FCAT Explorer. When the student completes one section, she can exit from the program and begin at the point where she stopped the next time she works on the test samples. The teacher will be able to see the work that the student has completed and know how well the student is doing.
Commercial Test Preparation Materials
Educational publishing companies produce test preparation materials to test basic skills. Some companies offer test samples in the form of books and workbooks. Others sell subscriptions for students to use the materials online. The test samples in these commercial publications are often aligned with individual state tests so that buyers can purchase the materials written specifically for their state. Many of these companies also offer sample test materials that can be completed online.
Schools use several different types of tests to measure student performance. The two types that students commonly take to measure their performance over a year or over several years are norm-referenced tests and criterion-referenced tests. The norm-referenced test compares a student's achievement with a large sample of students across the country. The criterion-referenced test determines whether a student has learned the specific skills that the state has identified as necessary.
The emphasis on testing in recent years has caused some controversy. Some people think too much emphasis is placed on testing. They worry that teachers will teach only what is required for students to pass the test. Teachers worry that student test scores will reflect poorly on their own teaching skills and affect their jobs. Parents, teachers and students may all feel stressed about the strong emphasis on tests. Others say that schools, teachers and students must be held accountable for their progress. They believe that tests will improve the quality of education, reducing the gap between high and low achievers. Basic skills sample tests can help raise test scores, but they should be used in a positive and encouraging manner.